Headhunters

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

26 October

 

 

Norway becomes independent, 1905

On this day in 1905, Norway became independent from Sweden. An independent country during the Viking and post-Viking era, Norway’s power declined after 1265, with the Black Death and competition from the North European trading and economic union the Hanseatic League forcing it out of its eminent position. In 1380 it was absorbed into a union with Denmark which stayed in place for four centuries (the country was formally dissolved in 1536, then re-established in 1660, though it continued to recognise itself as being Norwegian, and had standalone institutions and laws). Remarkably, this union was broken in 1814 when Denmark was ordered to cede Norway to Sweden (having been on the losing side in the Napoleonic war). Norway then declared independence, there was a short war with Sweden, followed by union with Sweden. Each country retained its sovereignty, until the Sweden/Norway was peacefully dissolved in 1905, when 99.95% per cent of the population voted for independence. Norway then offered the crown to a Danish prince, Carl, who accepted. Since then Norway has become one of the richest countries in the world, with the second highest GDP per capita in the world after Luxembourg. It is the second wealthiest country in the world and has the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation. It regularly tops the UNDP Human Development Index. Productivity is high, wages are high, it has a substantial welfare state.

 

 

Headhunters (2011, dir: Morten Tyldum)

Not just one of the cleanest-looking (thanks to DP John Andreas Andersen) but also one of the slickest films of recent years begins with a shot of a man called Roger (Aksel Hennie) taking a shower in his spare, beautiful, high end apartment and obsessing about the fact that he’s not as tall as his statuesque, gorgeous partner (Synnøve Macody Lund). He has the perfect life, though he’s not who he says he is, and he’s not as rich as his champagne lifestyle requires. An art thief who is posing as a headhunter, outwardly sorted, inwardly insecure, Roger’s life is bowled a googly when he discovers his wife is possibly banging the guy (also handsome, but significantly taller) whose Rubens Roger is just about to steal. Onto this foundation of beauty, thievery and jealousy is built a remarkable cat-and-mouse thriller based on a Jo Nesbø story, with Roger ending up being tracked by Stolen Rubens Guy (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of Game of Thrones) – ex-army, a millionaire, with the moves, technology and the killer attitude of a top level spook. Our guy Roger is smart but can he outwit, outrun, outgun a guy who is essentially James Bond? And what to do about the wife? And his own inferiority complex? Headhunters is a top class chase thriller driven by snappy psychological motivation, presented with all the gloss and referencing quite a few of the tropes of Hitchcock – the duplicitous blonde, the elaborate set piece, the dark sense of humour, the innocent man on the run (yes, Roger isn’t that innocent, but watching the headhunter becoming the headhunted is something Hitchcock would have understood). Beautifully cast and played, this is also a film that doesn’t insult the intelligence. Take the scene in which Roger has been temporarily arrested and is in being taken in by the police when the car they are all in is rammed off the road, over a cliff edge. Roger is the only one who survives, thanks to the two cops he was sandwiched between – their blubber has literally absorbed the shock of the fall. A lesser film would have explained it. Not Headhunters. It lets us work it out, and while we’re doing that, Roger is already on the run again, ducking as he weaves. One of the best Euro-thrillers of recent years.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Morten Tyldum’s eye for crisp Scando beauty
  • The US remake won’t touch it for style
  • Dark dark humour
  • The best “immersion in shit” scene ever committed to film

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Headhunters – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Headhunters”

  1. At first I have to say I read the novel of which this movie is based upon, "Headhunters" by Jo Nesbø, two years ago. A thriller I liked quite a lot. Usually a novel is better than the film. Well, here Morten Tyldum (Acclaimed films as "Buddy" and a short in "Most people usually live in China"), succeeded in making a film just as interesting and exciting as the book.

    Nesbø's writing is interesting. This is most probably why Jo Nesbø's first movie adaption of his series of novels with Harry Hole will be directed by Martin Scorsese, on Nesbø's demand – his favorite director.

    Actually I still kept being surprised as the movie went along. Not only because I can't remember all details in the book, but simply because the movie has a pace and also from time to time action-clipping which makes you feel poor Roger Brown's disasters. The handcraft is beautifully done. As simple as that.

    Actually this film was sold to more than 50 distributors in just as many countries before it even premiered in Norway. Probably both to the novel writers Jo Nesbø's for the latter years has become world acclaimed and compared to Stieg Larsson, buy maybe also due to director Morten Tyldums merits so far. Of course also credit to the producers, managing to sell on a promise!?

    Mark Wahlberg has said he was stunned by the film, and is now to make an American remake of it, with himself as Roger. Which, of course, is not at all needed. The original is as good as it gets.

    Well, back to the story. Roger Brown is a self-obtained headhunter for big companies, which has to steal art on the side to keep his woman happy. Or at least he think he has to do so. He has all the right connections, until he starts stealing from the wrong guy, while headhunting him as a new boss to a successful company. A former mercenary, or different kind of headhunter, he's turning out to be. When he understands that his greed has gotten him into trouble, he really finds out what it is, being headhunted.

    Both Aksel Hennie and Nicolai Coaster-Waldau is perfectly casted for this movie. Synnøve Macody Lund does a decent job in her debut-role, as do the rest of the cast. Fun also to see that real working police-chiefs in Oslo are attending the police press conference in the movie. Didn't know that even was possible for them to be allowed to do that. This actually makes both an in-joke as well as making the plot believable and "true" in our country.

    It will surprise me if this film doesn't get a remake in Hollywood in less than two years. Not that it'll be as good as this, or even necessary. But that's how the Hollywood-world is, nowadays.

    No doubt, the script is good. So is in all aspects the rest of the film as well. The film is smart, intelligent, surprising witty, and will engage you all the way through, both as a good story as well as a love story or a thriller. How much more do you want?

  2. Wow. It has been a long time since I've seen a movie this good. The movie tells the story of Roger Brown, a headhunter who also has a side job as an art thief. His latest job goes wrong and things get out of control from there on. If I give any more of the plot, I will spoil the movie for you. And trust me, you don't want that. A big part of what I enjoyed about the movie is watching how crazy things go for Roger.

    Apart from the very intelligent story, what really makes the film standout is the character development, especially for the main character Roger Brown played excellently by Aksel Hennie. You start of seeing him one way, but by the end of the movie, your perception of him will definitely change. He goes through a lot (and I mean A LOT) in the movie. While watching the movie I kept thinking, "Man, give this guy a break". The intelligent story has a whole lot of heart as well.

    The acting was top notch from the 2 main actors, Aksel Hennie and Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau (who you may know as Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones). Synnøve Macody Lund who play Roger's wife Diana is beautifully good too. I hope she gets more prominent roles after this.

    This is one movie you shouldn't miss. There's a Hollywood version in the making but it would be very hard top this original.

  3. I have seen some plot holes mentioned by other reviewers, but to be honest it won't spoil your viewing of this movie and I could even say that most films ask you for some kind of suspension of disbelief, otherwise you'd never go to the movies.

    I really didn't like the protagonist at all at first, but then your sympathy for him grows as he ends up having to do things that he wouldn't dream of in a million years, just to stay alive.

    It's all handled very well and moves along at a nice pace. There some particularly black moments when you almost feel guilty about laughing. But this film got a reaction from me, and for me, that's what a well put together film should do.

  4. Touted as the next Stieg Larsson (or if you prefer, Norway's answer to Sweden's other major literary export, Henning Mankell), Jo Nesbo's Headhunters had already been earmarked for a (no doubt inferior) US remake before it was even released overseas.

    Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a 168cm recruitment consultant with a big house, a beautiful wife and an inferiority complex that drives him to moonlight as an art thief. The prosaically named protagonist is no Thomas Crown – he steals to keep a (wildly overleveraged) roof over his head and only pockets a measly 30% of the revenue from his ill-gotten gains. Even his appearance is counterintuitive – more bug eyed Steve Buscemi than suited and booted Bond. Even so, there's more going on here than meets the eye, but suffice to say that his real troubles start when he decides to go after The Big One – the retirement score that will put an end to his financial troubles and allow him to keep his ridiculously attractive wife in the style to which he's become accustomed.

    To say anything more about the plot would be superfluous, but I will take a moment to admire the confidence of the director Morten Tyldum. Headhunters is, in a sense, typically Scandinavian – stark, brooding and with as much silence as dialogue. The style here serves the substance – the camera is often completely immobile, forcing the audience to concentrate on what's going on, a complete contrast to the craftsmanship/gimmickry more typical of glossy mainstream thrillers coming out of the US. Rather than spoonfeeding the audience every single clue, Headhunters isn't afraid to lead the unwitting watcher on a merry dance. Naturally the whole enterprise rests on the small but perfectly formed cast, particularly Hennie, with whom we slowly come to empathise, and the more typically suave Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau as the former exec with a murky past.

    If Headhunters has a particular weakness, it's that it spends most of its time descending into increasingly dark (and occasionally graphically violent) territory, while occasionally veering into light hearted caper. This does feel slightly bewildering, but to be honest, it's a relative minor criticism. Headhunters is definitely worth catching (particularly given the woefully slim pickings over the past few months), if not now, then 6 months from now when it premieres on Film Four in the middle of the night. Scandinavians (and cinéastes with a penchant for Northern European film) may be used to this kind of thing, but for the rest of us it's a wonderfully welcome arctic blast through the land's tat filled cinema screens.

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